NFC South: Clint Ingram

New Orleans Saints cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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Check here for a complete list of the New Orleans Saints’ roster moves.

Biggest surprises: Although the Saints almost certainly will have the NFC South’s oldest opening-day roster, they did show they’re not stuck on having a bunch of veterans. They released linebacker Clint Ingram and safety Pierson Prioleau.

Both had deep ties to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and Prioleau was the special-teams captain last season. But the release of Ingram shows the Saints believe the younger legs of Will Herring, Martez Wilson, Ramon Humber and Jonathan Casillas can cover more ground at outside linebacker. By releasing Prioleau and safety Chris Reis, the Saints are showing a lot of faith in undrafted rookie Isa Abdul-Quddus.

No-brainer: The Saints, who ran out of running backs in last seaosn’s playoffs, are determined not to let it happen again. Even though Chris Ivory was put on the injured-reserve list, the Saints kept Joique Bell to go along with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.

Bell had an outstanding preseason and made it impossible for the Saints to cut him.

What’s next: Don’t be surprised if the Saints bring in another tight end, and look for it to be a guy who specializes in blocking. They currently have only two tight ends on the roster. Jimmy Graham is likely to be used mostly as a pass-catching specialist, and David Thomas is a jack of all trades. The team wants to get back to a more consistent running game, so a run-blocking specialist would be a good fit.
All four NFC South general managers have been doing some very astute salary-cap maneuvering when it comes to the veteran minimum salary benefit -- even Tampa Bay’s Mark Dominik, who seems to think the word “veteran’’ applies to anyone who has reached his 22nd birthday.

The minimum-salary benefit is designed to give teams that sign veterans a salary-cap break. It can be used on any player with four or more accrued seasons, who signs for the minimum base salary, which varies depending on the number of years the player has in the league. As a general rule, the cap hit for those players is $525,000, even though the player might actually earn far more in base salary. The cap hit can also escalate a bit if there is a signing bonuses involved in the deal.

Let’s use New Orleans safety Pierson Prioleau, a 12-year veteran to demonstrate because he the highest-possible minimum base salary. Prioleau is scheduled to earn $910,000 in base salary. He also got a $50,000 signing bonus. Under normal circumstances, Prioleau would count $960,000 million against the salary cap. But the benefit drops his cap figure to just $575,000.

The Saints also used the veteran minimum benefit on offensive lineman Jordan Black, linebacker Clint Ingram, safety Chris Reis, receiver Courtney Roby, cornerback Leigh Torrence, running back Patrick Cobbs, tackle George Foster and tackle Alex Barron. In the case of Barron, general manager Mickey Loomis did a very nice job of guarding his team against the cap. Barron’s deal, which was for $685,000, was structured with a split salary, meaning his salary and cap hit drop dramatically if he’s placed on injured reserved or waived while injured.

Barron currently is on the injured-reserve list and his cap figure has dropped to $228,000. It could be lowered even more if the Saints release Barron with an injury settlement.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney was almost as active as Loomis with the benefit. He used it on six players – safety Sean Considine, quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker Omar Gaither, receiver Legedu Naanee, cornerback E.J. Wilson and cornerback Cletis Gordon.

Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff used it twice and got some big savings because both of his veterans have a lot of years under their belts. Tight end Reggie Kelly and linebacker Mike Peterson each got $910,000 base salaries with $50,000 signing bonuses. Kelly and Peterson each are counting only $575,000 against the cap.

Tampa Bay, which is poised to have the league’s youngest opening-day roster, used the benefit on only one player. That’s defensive tackle John McCargo. His base salary is $685,000 with no signing bonus, so his cap figure is $525,000. The Bucs also protected themselves against injury to McCargo. His deal also includes a split salary, which would pay him only $353,000 if he is injured.

Looking at Saints' depth chart

August, 16, 2011
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The New Orleans Saints sent out their depth chart to advance Saturday’s preseason game and there’s one interesting thing on there.

In a move you don’t often see, the Saints are listing two starters at one position. That’s right tackle, where the chart reads: “Zach Strief/Charles Brown." Both names are in bold, which is used to indicate starters.

This isn’t all that surprising though. It basically reflects exactly what coach Sean Payton said Monday when discussing the release of former starting right tackle Jon Stinchcomb. Payton said Strief and Brown would compete for the job and the depth chart seems to reflect that.

In a somewhat related noted, the game news release teams send out always includes a chart on how a team was built, listing what players came in what years. Stinchcomb, who came in 2003, had been the longest-tenured member of the Saints.

That honor now is shared by defensive end Will Smith and receiver Devery Henderson, who were drafted in 2004. Those are the only remaining players who were with the team before Payton became coach in 2006.

A couple of other notes on the depth chart. Right tackle isn’t the only spot where the Saints are listing two starters. They’re also doing it at nose tackle with Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin. Both are veteran defensive tackles who were signed by the Saints this year. This one’s not a real surprise either, but it’s not as much about competition as the right-tackle spot. In the case of Rogers and Franklin, they’ll probably rotate along with defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.

The starting outside linebackers are still listed as Scott Shanle on the weak side and Will Herring on the strong side. The Saints could open the season that way, but I think there still is competition at those spots. Jonathan Casillas, who is listed as Shanle’s backup, had a very strong performance in the preseason opener and Clint Ingram, who is listed behind Herring, has history with coordinator Gregg Williams from their days together in Jacksonville.

One other quick note on the Saints. They signed running back Patrick Cobbs on Tuesday. Running backs Chris Ivory and Joique Bell are currently injured. Cobbs previously has been with the Dolphins and Steelers and has made his mark mostly as a special-teams player.

Camp Confidential: Saints

August, 12, 2011
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METAIRIE, La. -- Jonathan Vilma grabbed the question and treated it much the same way he would a running back.

He grabbed it forcefully and drove it straight to the proper destination.

“It’s really very, very simple,’’ the middle linebacker for the New Orleans Saints said. “If we want to get back to being the Super Bowl champions, we have to play defense the way we played it in 2009, not the way we did in 2010. We have to go out there and start making turnovers happen again.’’

[+] EnlargeJonathan Vilma
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireJonathan Vilma, right, wants the Saints' defense to return to its 2009 playmaking form.
It's not as though the 2010 season was a complete disaster for the Saints. They went 11-5 and made the playoffs. But they went out to Seattle for the first round of the postseason and got upset by a team that didn’t even have a winning record. That ended New Orleans’ defense of its first Super Bowl championship, and Vilma put the reason for that squarely on the defense.

“Look, we still had [quarterback] Drew Brees and all sorts of weapons on the other side of the ball,’’ Vilma said. “Last year’s problem wasn’t our offense. It was our defense. We just didn’t make things happen the way we did in 2009. We played well at times, but we also left a lot of big plays on the field because, for whatever reason, we just didn’t make the same plays we did the year before.’’

Vilma pointed to one statistic to demonstrate his point. In 2009, the Saints were plus-11 in turnover ratio. In 2010, they were minus-6.

They have the personnel to reverse that trend, and Vilma said a little more help from the defense could be all it takes to get back to the Super Bowl.

“You think of McDonald’s and you think of Burger King, you know what you’re going to get across the world,’’ Vilma said. “So we want people to think of Saints defense, you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get takeaways, hitting, relentlessness, running to the ball. I think we’re starting to build that brand, we are still working toward it, and one thing we won’t do is take a step back.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Can the defense really get back to 2009 form? Yes, it’s very possible. Gregg Williams is one of the league’s best and most aggressive defensive coordinators. When I visited camp recently, the defensive players were picking up every loose ball, even well after plays were done. That’s something Williams brought when he arrived in 2009. It didn’t really stop in 2010. But you can tell the Saints are approaching loose balls with much more gusto in this camp.

That’s great, but just taking that mental approach won’t be enough. The Saints have made some personnel moves that should make the overall defense better and should help produce turnovers. The Saints added defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin and suddenly are much bigger on the defensive line. Rotate Rogers and Franklin with a healthy Sedrick Ellis, and the Saints suddenly could be much stronger than they’ve been in the middle of the line in recent years.

That should help the pass rush, particularly Will Smith, Alex Brown and rookie Cameron Jordan. Smith and Brown didn’t get as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks as the coaches would have liked last season. Pressure is the key to a Williams’ defense. If the Saints can get pressure, the turnovers will come naturally.

2. Is the defense really to blame for last year? Not quite as much as Vilma claims. He’s right that the defense wasn’t the turnover machine it was in 2009. But the offense wasn’t exactly the perfectly tuned machine it was in the Super Bowl season. The Saints scored 64 touchdowns in 2009 (and five of those came on interception returns by the defense), but that number dropped to 44 last season. Maybe the defense could have helped a bit more with field position, but this offense had some flaws.

It’s tough to criticize Brees, who has carried the Saints since his arrival in 2006. But numbers don’t lie, and they’ll tell you Brees had an off year last season. His passing yardage and touchdowns were similar to 2009, but the huge difference was interceptions.

Brees threw only 11 interceptions in 2009 but had a career-high 22 last season. He never missed any playing time or complained about it, but Brees never seemed to be quite the same after injuring his knee in a Week 3 game with Atlanta. That might have had more to do with his "slump'' than we'll ever know.

But Brees has had a whole offseason to recover, and I expect him to bounce back. His cast of receivers remains largely the same, and replacing center Jonathan Goodwin with Olin Kreutz should not hurt an offensive line that already is very good.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireMark Ingram, right, should become a workhorse for the Saints right away.
3. How will the Saints use their running backs? Whether you loved him or not, Reggie Bush is gone, and that’s going to have an impact. Although he never put up huge numbers, Bush was the kind of player who made defenses account for him every time he was on the field.

It’s easy to say the Saints will try to replace Bush by committee and, to some degree, that’s true. They brought in Darren Sproles to do a lot of what Bush did -- run outside, catch passes out of the backfield and work as a return man. They also have Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, who are pretty solid all-around backs.

But the biggest offensive move the Saints made this offseason was drafting Mark Ingram. He’s a running back who can do everything well, and he'll probably be used the way Deuce McAllister was in the early years of coach Sean Payton’s tenure. Sproles will inherit the packages Bush was in on, but Ingram’s going to get most of the playing time -- and carries.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Nobody got very excited when the Saints added Will Herring. That’s understandable, because he spent four seasons in Seattle as a backup linebacker and special-teams player. Herring has only seven career starts, but a coaching staff and front office that have been known to find some steals might have another one. Herring has been getting most of the first-team work on the strong side in training camp, and the coaches have been raving about him. He’s quick and he’s smart, and the change of scenery apparently has him playing better than ever.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

When he’s healthy and on the field, Tracy Porter is a solid cornerback. But Porter hasn’t been on the field this training camp. He’s been walking around the sidelines with his left knee wrapped as he recovers from offseason surgery. There’s hope Porter will be ready for the regular season, and there is even higher hope he’ll be motivated to have a huge year because he can become a free agent after the season.

But there’s also some skepticism, because this isn’t the first injury for Porter. He missed four games last year and four the year before. Fellow starter Jabari Greer also has a history of injury problems. If Porter and Greer have more problems, the Saints could be thin at cornerback. They signed veteran Fabian Washington, but he has missed some camp time with an injury.

The upside is the absence of Porter and Washington has given second-year pro Patrick Robinson and rookie Johnny Patrick more work. Williams has been praising both of them. If either or both continue to impress and Porter’s recovery lingers, we could see a change in the lineup. That also wouldn't help Porter's chances of earning a big contract and staying with the Saints next season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Wide receiver Robert Meachem was a close runner-up for the biggest-surprise category above. Meachem is coming off ankle surgery for an injury that slowed him last year, and he's having an excellent camp. He has caught just about every pass thrown his way and seems to be moving much better than a year ago. Meachem was a force as a deep threat in 2009, and it looks as if he might be returning to that form.
  • Herring has been working on the strong side and Scott Shanle on the weak side. But nothing’s settled yet. Herring appears headed for a starting job, but Shanle is aging. The Saints have liked what they’ve seen from Clint Ingram and Jonathan Casillas, and they know what they have in Jo-Lonn Dunbar. They’ll probably go through several preseason games before deciding firmly on their starting linebackers. Even then, they could still rotate linebackers because the coaches view all of them as pretty close to equal.
  • One linebacker who is struggling a bit is third-round pick Martez Wilson. You can see he has good athleticism, but he looks lost at times during team drills. The Saints aren’t anywhere close to being ready to give up on him, because he has lots of upside. But a lot of fans thought he’d be an instant starter. That’s not going to happen.
  • The Saints never have been afraid to take a shot on a reclamation project, and that’s what they did with Rogers at defensive tackle. He came into the league with a lot of hype back in 2001 but has spent his career stuck with some pretty bad teams in Detroit and Cleveland. Rogers even lost his starting job with the Browns last year, and there have been questions about his conditioning and attitude throughout his career. But this might be a perfect fit. Rogers is on a good team for perhaps the first time in his career, and Williams is a master motivator. Even if Rogers doesn’t work out, I like how the Saints hedged their bet by bringing in Franklin.
  • The Saints also took a shot on another former first-round pick. That’s offensive tackle Alex Barron. But he’s not off to a great start. He has been sidelined by injury, and unless he comes back soon and makes a big impression, he probably won’t make the roster.
  • Since entering the league in 2009, punter Thomas Morstead has been known as a guy with a big leg. That hasn’t changed. But Morstead put in a lot of work on his directional punting in the offseason, and you can see the results in practice. That should help the defense with field position.

Three things: Saints-49ers

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
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Three things to watch for in New Orleans’ preseason opener against visiting San Francisco on Friday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Drew Brees. Normally, Brees is the last guy you have to worry about on the Saints. But he’s coming off a season in which he threw a career-high 22 interceptions and spent much of the offseason dealing with the labor situation. If Brees comes out and is sharp, it’s a good omen for the Saints.

The outside linebackers. The Saints have been working Scott Shanle on the weak side and Will Herring on the strong side through most of camp. But guys like Jonathan Casillas and Clint Ingram are still in the mix for starting jobs. How the linebackers perform in the preseason games will carry a lot of weight when the big decisions are made.

The debut of Mark Ingram. I doubt the Saints are going to flash too much of their rookie running back tonight. They want to save him for the regular season, but he’ll probably get a couple of carries and fans might be reminded of Deuce McAllister.

Observations on the Saints

August, 9, 2011
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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints just finished a fully-padded practice on what unquestionably has been the hottest day of the 2011 NFC South Training Camp Tour.

How hot was it? Well, let’s skip the weather terms and put a different kind of number on it. Defensive end Alex Brown just tweeted that he was nine pounds lighter after he got back to the locker room. Brown said he weighed in at 243 pounds -- that’s linebacker size.

Speaking of the heat, the Saints are going to get away from it. The Saints are going to play a preseason game at Houston. After that, they’re heading to Oxnard, Calif. They’ll spend a week practicing there before playing the Oakland Raiders.

“I think we’ll benefit for a lot of reasons,’’ coach Sean Payton said. “The weather and the environment is something I’m familiar with. Going out there and playing Oakland, it will be a good week for us to finish up.’’

Payton’s familiar with Oxnard from his days with Dallas because the Cowboys have trained there. Oxnard’s known for its low humidity. Payton also said the trip sort of gives the Saints an extra week of training camp.

A few other observations from Tuesday’s practice.
  • Receivers Marques Colston, Adrian Arrington and Jarred Fayson all missed practice. Payton said he’s not worried about a shortage of receivers for Friday’s preseason opener. Payton said he expects some or all of the injured receivers to return soon.
  • Backup quarterback Chase Daniel had a very nice practice. I saw him throw three touchdown passes in team drills. The high-light was a back-shoulder touchdown to Jimmy Graham.
  • Until Tuesday, I had only seen rookie running back Mark Ingram play on television. In person, he’s even more impressive. I saw him running with power and the best thing I can say is he looked faster than I thought he was. The Saints are bringing just about all their other rookies along slowly, but Ingram’s getting all sorts of work with the starters.
  • The outside linebacker spots are still up for grabs, but Scott Shanle's working with the first team on the weak side and Will Herring's working on the strong side. But Clint Ingram got some first-team reps on the strong side on Tuesday and is very much in the mix. I like the way the Saints are handling the situation at outside linebackers. They've got a whole bunch of candidates and they're going to use the preseason to throw them all out there and see who rises up.
  • One thing that really stood out was the fact that the middle of the defensive line is a lot bigger than last year. That’s largely due to the arrival of Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin.
  • I'll have more on the Saints on Wednesday and their Camp Confidential profile is scheduled for Friday.
New Orleans rookie defensive end Cameron Jordan has ended his contract holdout. The Saints just announced they have agreed to terms with the first-round pick.

With veteran defensive end Will Smith possibly facing a four-game suspension to start the season, Jordan has a shot to be in the starting lineup on opening day. But he has some catching up to do after missing all the offseason work due to the lockout and the first few days of training camp.

But Jordan, a University of California product, has all sorts of potential. In 50 college games (33 starts), Jordan produced 16.5 sacks, five pass deflections, four forced fumbles and was known as a strong run defender.

The Saints also announced a few other moves. The team has agreed to terms that will keep offensive lineman Zach Strief with the team. The Saints also signed linebacker Clint Ingram, tight end Tory Humphrey and defensive back Terrail Lambert. The Saints also waived rookie cornerback Josh Gatlin and rookie guard Carl Johnson.

Hitting the NFC South links

August, 1, 2011
8/01/11
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Time for a quick run through the headlines from around the NFC South.

Linebacker Clint Ingram reportedly is signing with the New Orleans Saints. You might remember him. He signed with the Saints in 2010, was expected to compete for a starting job at outside linebacker, but never got on the field due to an injury. Ingram has a history with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, so, if he's healthy, he has a chance to contribute.

D. Orlando Ledbetter has a quick overview of what might be the best position battle in Atlanta’s camp. It’s for the nickelback job and it’s between two young cornerbacks, Christopher Owens and Dominique Franks. Owens played that role some last season and had a rough outing in the playoff loss to Green Bay. But the Falcons still have high hopes for him. They also think Franks has potential. They’re just hoping one of them really steps forward in camp and claims the job.

Great quote from Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams: “The 'is what it is' is no more. It's time to go." That was a shot at former coach John Fox, who used those words far more times than any human should. Good thing Williams didn’t sign with the Broncos, who reportedly were interested in him, because he’d still be hearing those words.

John Romano writes that the Bucs want to keep running back LeGarrette Blount on the field more often this season. Blount didn’t join the team until late in camp last year and it took time for him to learn the playbook. Even when he took over as the main runner, the Bucs had to limit his role to simply carrying the football because Blount wasn’t fully up to speed on pass blocking or running pass routes out of the backfield. The Bucs are hoping to make Blount more of an every-down back this year and balance their offense.

Saints give up on LB Clint Ingram

October, 20, 2010
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In a somewhat surprising move, the New Orleans Saints have released linebacker Clint Ingram on the day he was supposed to come off the physically unable to perform list.

Coach Sean Payton had said Monday that Ingram, who had been sidelined with a knee injury since joining the Saints, was expected to begin practicing Wednesday. But general manager Mickey Loomis said the team made the move because Ingram wasn’t going to be ready to help the Saints this year.

Ingram had suffered the injury while with Jacksonville, but the Saints took a chance on him as a possible replacement for Scott Fujita, who signed with Cleveland. The team has been getting by with Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Danny Clark at the position. Clark, who was signed in September, has looked more comfortable and been more of a factor in recent weeks.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

Atlanta’s defense. It really did have a new and much improved look early in the season. But the 31 points allowed in Philadelphia were not a good sign. You have to wonder if it’s the start of a downward spiral. After all, the Falcons probably will be without the two players they brought in to give the defense a new look on Sunday against Cincinnati. They already have said rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will sit out with a knee injury and it appears likely cornerback Dunta Robinson could miss some time because of a concussion.

[+] EnlargeCadillac Williams
Kim Klement/US PresswireCadillac Williams has struggled this season, gaining just 2.5 yards per carry.
Cadillac Williams, running back, Buccaneers. This guy is a fan favorite because he’s shown such courage in coming back from two major knee injuries. That also has made him a favorite of the coaches. But you don’t stay as anybody’s favorite when you’re averaging just 2.5 yards a carry and haven’t scored a touchdown. Sure, you can put some of the blame on the offensive line, but Williams hasn’t hit holes when they’ve been there. The Bucs don’t have many other options, but it looks like they’re going to take looks at two guys they picked up off the street at the start of the season -- LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin.

Sam Baker, left tackle, Falcons. He’s supposed to be the franchise left tackle and that means he’s supposed to protect the blind side of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. Well, it’s not working quite like it was planned. Ryan got sacked three times against Philadelphia and the number would have been a lot higher if he didn’t do such a good job of throwing the ball away when he sensed pressure. It seemed like Ryan ended up on the ground just about every time he dropped back to pass. It’s hard to change left tackles midseason and the Falcons don’t have any real options. But it’s starting to look like left tackle is going to be high on their list of needs for the 2011 draft.

RISING

Chris Ivory, running back, Saints. If you count up all the backfield injuries the Saints have had dating back to the preseason, Ivory would be the fifth- or sixth-string running back. But the undrafted rookie played like a first-team feature back Sunday as he ran for 158 yards against Tampa Bay. That’s going to earn him some more playing time and he’s secured a spot in the rotation even after Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush return from injuries.

Matt Moore, quarterback, Carolina. He’s been named the starter again after losing his job to rookie Jimmy Clausen. With the 49ers coming to town, the Panthers actually have a chance and they need to give Moore a chance. They need to approach this game the way they should have approached the start of the season. They need to rely on their defense and their running game and let Moore be a game manager. He’s capable of doing that. The Panthers, for reasons I can’t understand, asked Moore to go out and win the first couple of games with his arm and that was way too much to ask. Give this guy some support and he just might be adequate.

New Orleans’ defense. The Saints struggled through their first five games, but showed some promise against Tampa Bay. Yeah, make the obligatory joke about Tampa Bay’s offense, but the fact is, it’s not bad. At least the Bucs have a legitimate passing game. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has faced some challenges because of injuries this season, but it looks like he’s getting his group together and there might be more help on the way in the coming weeks. Safety Darren Sharper and linebacker Clint Ingram are scheduled to return to practice after spending the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list with injuries.

Sharper, Ingram close to returns

October, 19, 2010
10/19/10
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The New Orleans Saints will have a couple of new but veteran faces on the practice field Wednesday.

But that doesn’t mean there will be immediate changes on game days. Safety Darren Sharper and linebacker Clint Ingram, who have been on the physically unable to perform list, will begin practicing Wednesday, and the team has a three-week window to decide whether to put them on the active roster or place them on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

The fact Sharper and Ingram will be practicing on the first day they’re eligible is a pretty good indication the team thinks both players can return this season.

Coach Sean Payton made it sound like the team will proceed cautiously with both players. I don’t think you’ll see either one on the field this Sunday. But with injuries starting to pile up at linebacker and in the defensive backfield, Sharper and Ingram could provide a big boost sometime in the next few weeks.

Saints still shuffling linebackers

September, 6, 2010
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With Jonathan Casillas lost to a foot injury, New Orleans coach Sean Payton isn’t saying who will open the season as the starter at weakside linebacker.

Payton said Monday that no official decision has been made, and a public announcement won’t be made until the defense takes the field Thursday night against Minnesota.

If I had to guess, I’d say Jo-Lonn Dunbar opens in that spot, but I don’t know that he’ll stay there for long. This position is in flux with the Saints. Clint Ingram, who also was supposed to be a candidate to start, is on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which means he can’t play in the first six games.

The Saints signed former Houston linebacker Danny Clark on Monday, and he did an earlier stint with the Saints. That could help get him on the field quickly. But I'm not sure the Saints are completely done making roster moves at linebacker.

“(Clark) is someone that we had here a couple of years ago and we practiced against him when Houston was here (in the preseason),’’ Payton said. “He’s a physical player; he’s a first- and second-down type player that has good size and carries his pads pretty well. Certainly his physicality is something that we’ve seen and actually had when he was here prior. Those would be some of the attributes that you would see from him. He can play in a nine-technique on the line of scrimmage, he can play back in a bubble and he is strong.”

New Orleans Saints cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a full list of New Orleans’ roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Right up until the final preseason game, it looked as if Jonathan Casillas was set to be the starter at weak-side linebacker. But the Saints just announced Casillas has been placed on the injured-reserve list and will miss the season with a foot injury. They also placed Clint Ingram, who was brought in to compete for that spot, on the physically-unable-to-perform list. That leaves them more than thin at linebacker. Scott Shanle was going to start on the strong side and Jonathan Vilma in the middle. Shanle can play either outside position and could move to the weak side if the Saints think that's in their best interest. Stanley Arnoux, Marvin Mitchell, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Anthony Waters are the other linebackers on the roster and none of them are sure-fire starters. Dunbar got some first-team work on the weak side in the early part of camp, but is viewed more as a backup middle linebacker and special-teams player. Arnoux, who missed his rookie season with an injury, has the tools to play the either outside spot, but lacks experience. This looks like a situation in which the Saints will have to look for help from the outside. What’s available on the waiver wire might not be enough. They might have to pursue a trade for a linebacker with realistic ability to start right away.

No-brainer: Although he was an instant fan favorite, and a huge reason why New Orleans won the first Super Bowl in franchise history, the Saints have known for a long time -- barring a huge miracle -- that free safety Darren Sharper wouldn’t be on the opening-day roster. He’s 34 and the Saints didn’t even re-sign him until Sharper checked the free-agent market and found he had very little value. He’s also coming off knee surgery and couldn’t get on the practice field the entire preseason. The Saints placed him on the physically-unable-to-perform list and there’s hope he might be able to come back and provide some help in the second half of the season. But that might be nothing more than wishful thinking. The Saints called in last year’s first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins, who spent his rookie season at cornerback, soon after the Super Bowl and told him he’d be moving to free safety. He’s worked with the first team the entire offseason and he’s not going to be coming out of the lineup unless he struggles mightily.

What’s next: It’s kind of difficult to improve on the roster of a Super Bowl champion. But general manager Mickey Loomis and his staff will watch the waiver wire closely for more than outside linebackers. You still could see a move at defensive tackle, where depth is a slight issue. With only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, it’s imperative the Saints carry one on the practice squad. The odds-on favorite for that is Sean Canfield, who was a seventh-round draft pick and went through the preseason with the Saints.
The New Orleans Saints just announced their roster moves and I’ll do an analysis in just a few minutes. But there’s one bit of important news that I think you should hear first.

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who seemed to be headed for a starting job, has been placed on the injured-reserve list and will miss the season. Casillas suffered a foot injury in the preseason finale. With Clint Ingram being placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list, this leaves the Saints a little thin at linebacker.

Stanley Arnoux, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Marvin Mitchell look like the candidates to move into a starting role. Stayed tuned on this one because the Saints may have to look for help elsewhere.

NFC South mailbag

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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As we wait for teams around the league to announce their roster cuts (that will probably come late this afternoon in most cases), let’s take a trip through the mailbag. Questions about T.J. Houshmandzadeh landing in the NFC South seem to be the dominant topic, so we’ll deal with that first.

Chris in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: What are the chances Carolina trades Dwayne Jarrett to Seattle for T.J. Houshmanzadeh?

Pat Yasinskas: I’m not going to totally rule this one out. The reports say Seattle is ready to trade or cut Houshmandzadeh and Jarrett hasn’t made himself a centerpiece in the Carolina receiving corps. But I think this one is a long shot for several reasons. Trades are easy to talk about, but don’t happen all that often in the NFL. Bringing in an aging wide receiver doesn’t exactly fit with Carolina’s youth movement and there must be a reason Seattle is ready to part with Houshmandzadeh. Also, what makes anyone think any team is going to give up something for Jarrett? Yeah, I know he played for Pete Carroll at USC, but it’s not like he’s shown anything since he’s been in the NFL.


Bhavik in Atlanta writes: What do you think of the Falcons signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh? He's getting old, which is something against the Falcons philosophy but he can have a solid year.

Pat Yasinskas: I’m having a tough time figuring out why so many Atlanta fans think there’s a big need for help at wide receiver. Roddy White’s a very good No. 1. Michael Jenkins is a role player at No. 2 and the Falcons are excited about having a healthy Harry Douglas in the slot. Eric Weems and Brian Finneran provide solid depth and Troy Bergeron may even make the roster. I know a lot of Atlanta fans are down on Jenkins because he doesn’t put up big numbers, but that’s not really his role in this system. His role is to be a safety valve as a possession receiver and a blocker in the running game and he does those things well. With tight end Tony Gonzalez, it’s almost like the Falcons have an extra wide receiver. Gonzalez and White are going to be the main targets in the passing game and I don’t think the Falcons want someone cutting into their opportunities.


Todd in Indianapolis writes: I'm going to be the first to ask,what are the chances the Bucs go after TJ Housh? .f not Carolina probablyy will and we can’t have that!!!

Pat Yasinskas: I really don’t see that one, Todd. It just doesn’t fit with Tampa Bay’s plan. The Buccaneers are going with youth. They drafted Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams this year and Sammie Stroughter last year and they traded for Reggie Brown with five years remaining on his contract. That gives them four young receivers and the plan is to let them grow up with Josh Freeman.


Kenneth in Boston writes: Do you think the Saints could possibly think about switching to a 3-4? Junior Galette seems like the perfect man for an outside linebacker/pass rush specialist and the team can use all their depth, especially to stop 4 receiver sets. Casillas is a great start, but I'd like to see the Saints use more of their young LBs and Clint Ingram in some mixes. Also, Tony Hargrove could definitely play a defensive end in a 3 man front, lined up next to Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis. Your thoughts?

Pat Yasinskas: You may see Gregg Williams throw a 3-4 front out there now and again just to confuse other teams. But the Saints are a 4-3 defense at heart and they’re not about to switch from that. Their personnel is set up for the 4-3 scheme. Besides, I wouldn’t go projecting too much of a role for Ingram. I think there’s a decent chance he won’t even be on the roster by the end of today.

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